Lacking these would be dumb
Found in foods oh so yum.
Any of you with kids might recognize this as a different version of The Veggie Tales intro. Those of you that have no idea what I'm talking about, this was a television show on PBS that taught kids the importance of eating vegetables to make them fearless and strong. Most of you, however, probably don't need talking broccoli, cauliflower or celery to remind you that healthy foods promote longevity and overall well-being. But what might remain a mystery is what these foods possess that help us get the most out of what we eat.
So what do the four things above have in common? Um....hey that's it! They all end with the same two letters. While true, I'm afraid that isn't the answer for which I was looking. Maybe the title will give you a clue. Ah yes...you guessed it...they are all minerals...and all important for optimum (no, that is not a mineral) health. The list above is just a sampling of the many minerals contained in the foods we consume daily or found on supermarket shelves. The question remains, though, what exactly is a mineral and why are they beneficial in our diets? That is the focus of my latest blog post so let's iron (which is indeed a mineral) out some details and get some answers, shall we?
Minerals are everywhere...in batteries, coins, electric vehicles, electronics, fertilizers, glassware, jet engines, soil, writing implements such as pencils, and so many other products we use everyday. Based off this information, you might wonder how and/or why these minerals are so important in our diets. After all, you probably don't eat plates full of lithium or nickel for a snack. Believe it or not many of the same minerals that are processed into making these rather useful tools are indeed the same minerals found in the foods we eat. Don't let that scare you, it's what is done (or not done) to them after mining that makes them edible or not.
Knowing what a mineral is might be a great first start and help us understand their necessity in our daily lives. In simple terms, minerals are naturally occurring inorganic solids. The key part of that definition is "naturally occurring." This means they are not made by people but rather found in our beautiful Mother Earth. With all the recent hype about removing nasty man made chemicals such as artificial colors and flavors, high fructose corn syrup, MSG, nitrates, and even pesticides from the products we consume, should we instead emphasize the good stuff that is right under our feet? Of course, and that is exactly what I'm here to do. If these are given to us freely in nature, doesn't it stand to reason they are an essential component of ideal health?
To keep this article from becoming a novel, I will be discussing only some of the most critical minerals required for proper nutrition. Calcium is one with which almost everyone is familiar. Found in cruciferous vegetables, dairy products, eggs, fortified orange juice, kefir, okra, rainbow trout, sardines, seaweed, soybeans and some medications (like Tums), it aids in bone density and helps prevents fractures and osteoporosis. Having strong bones and teeth assists in maintaining an erect posture and reduces the chance of falling which for the older population is especially crucial, and being able to chew nutritious foods throughout our lifetimes ensures we get to enjoy indulging every so often. I like the sound of that! It also regulates salt levels in the body so for those of you that crave salty snacks, be aware that consuming too much salt may also be depriving the bones and teeth of precious Calcium. With that being said, the FDA recommends two servings of a calcium-rich food daily or 1000 mg. Typically, in cases of milk, a serving is eight fluid ounces. When using dairy products to satisfy the requirements, be aware of the fat and sugar content in the selections you make. Choosing lower fat or skim milk options is best.
Aim, Colgate, Crest and Pepsodent all share the mineral Fluoride which provides a base level of protection against dental cavities. City water systems that offer fluoridated drinking water are the best way to ensure the RDA of this mineral is met, although excessive Fluoride after time can actually discolor the teeth and wear away the enamel. Brushing with a fluoridated toothpaste is a way to ensure a healthy mouth...just make sure to spit out the excess or you may contraindicate the purpose of the Fluoride. For this reason, it is labeled a trace mineral, meaning very small quantities are needed to be effective. Only 2.9 mg is needed daily to prevent tooth decay.
As I mentioned earlier, Iron is a mineral the makes up part of hemoglobin which, if you didn't know before, is a protein in blood that transports oxygen to the lungs, muscles and other tissues in the body. It also functions in cell growth and development of connective tissue and hormones. Good food sources are beans, dried fruit, liver, nuts, red meat, and things fortified with it like dry breakfast cereals. You may be wondering how much iron is needed for the body to maintain proper health. For men, the RDA is 8.7 mg/day. In women it varies based on age because of having monthly menstrual cycles. Females between 19-50 years old the requirement is 14.8 mg daily, whereas, after 50 the amount is the same as males.
Plop, plop, fizz, fizz...oh what a relief it is! If you are old enough to remember this commercial, you may also be aware that this was advertising a product called Alka Seltzer. Didn't live through the 80's? No fear, I am here to help. This was a medicine many people used to alleviate heartburn. The main active ingredient in it was magnesium (most use Calcium bicarbonate now). Milk of Magnesia was another treatment possibility that still uses Magnesium in combination with other compounds to treat acid reflux, gas and heartburn. Because this mineral is used as a medication in addition to being present in many delicious foods, it is very versatile. It's primary purposes are to regulate muscle and nerve functionality, maintain blood sugar levels, and keep blood pressure relatively constant. Another really cool fact about magnesium is it helps make DNA. Studies have shown that Magnesium may also boost exercise performance without the use of steroids and/or other banned substances, combat depression, improve symptoms of PMS, lower blood pressure in those with hypertension, prevent migraines, promote acceptable blood sugar levels in people with diabetes and reduce anxiety. Who doesn't want that? Does all this good stuff packed into one powerful mineral make you want to stock up? Well consuming 310 mg per day is most beneficial unless you are a man, in which case you will need 400 mg. Legumes such as black beans and edamame, fish, grains such as brown rice, seeds like chia and pumpkin and nuts are excellent (and tasty) ways to maximize the benefits of Magnesium.
Do you frequently cramp up after intense bouts of exercise? Wonder why you see athletes or distance runners eat bananas after marathons? Are they just hungry and need a super convenient carry-on or are they on to something? If you answered yes, the next mineral is here to save the day. Potassium is found in avocados even more so than bananas, but because the yellow crescent shaped fruit is a grab and go type food, it is more commonly used to revitalize proteins the body uses during heavy workouts and gradually return the heartrate back to pre-exercise levels. In so doing, this helps reduce the lactic acid buildup and, in turn, the chances of muscular cramping. In addition to the two sources I listed, beets, leafy greens, squash and starchy vegetables contain potassium. For maximum health benefits, aim for 3,500-4700 mg each day. While this number may seem high, eating a wide variety of foods aids in adequate intakes. Fun fact: Potassium is one of a very few minerals represented on the periodic table that doesn't have any letters of its name in its atomic symbol. Any guesses as to what other ones share the same characteristic? Hint: one is mentioned earlier in this blog post...
Another trace mineral needing consideration, and one with which you are probably not as familiar, is Selenium. Maybe you've never heard of it at all before now. However, that doesn't mean it has less significance than the others previously discussed and here's why: it acts as an antioxidant to help reduce asthma symptoms which are elevated when living in hot, dry climates or a polluted city as well as the risks of cancer, heart disease, mental decline, and thyroid issues. Makes you want to hit up your local supermarket for eggs, fish, pork, poultry, whole grain products and yogurt doesn't it? A nice turkey sandwich with all the fixin's on whole grain bread sounds delightful in summertime heat. Picnic on the beach anyone? Again, because Selenium is a trace mineral, the body functions best when 55 mcg per day is achieved. Lactating and/or pregnant women need a bit more (60 mcg) due to the developing fetus taking some from mom. Add a loaded two egg omelet for breakfast and a beautiful pork roast at dinner and in three easy, satisfying meals you did it!
Have you been lucky enough to get through the COVID-19 pandemic unscathed? Or were you exposed numerous times and continued to get a clean bill of health? Although I have been fortunate so far to fall into both categories, others may not have been so blessed. Why is this you ask? It could be related to the final mineral being covered...that of Zinc. Zinc helps build immunity and resistance to disease and illness. Furthermore, it's beneficial in metabolism and for wound healing and retaining vital senses such as smell and taste. Wow! Another mineral packing a mighty punch! While you're out shopping for your weekly menu, make sure to grab some oysters! Yes, they supply the most Zinc of any other food. Not a huge fan? Poultry and red meat may be more your style and are also great sources. Vegetarian? Asparagus, beans, broccoli, nuts, okra, peas, and whole grains work just fine too.
Variety is the spice of life so selecting lean meats and lots of colorful fresh veggies are the key to enjoying many years with loved ones. Minerals are not just mine for the taking, they are readily available for you too, everywhere you look. They provide all the nutrients you need to guarantee you'll be able to get up, get out and get moving for a lifetime. Join me next week when we cover another essential ingredient vitally (that's a clue) important for maximal health.